Bihar Election Commission Vs RTI petitioner

Getting information under the Right To Information Act can get really tricky at times. Especially, when Government officials are so reluctant to work in a transparent and accountable manner.

Afroz Alam Sahil, an RTI petitioner based in Delhi had requested the Chief Electoral Officer of Bihar to provide him the details of the funding of some leading political parties under the Right To Information Act. He had asked for the details of Form 24 (A) of Congress, BJP, RJD, JDU and LJP submitted to the State Election Commission in the last three years.

The Election Commission of India lays down that political parties shall in each financial year, prepare a report in respect of the contribution in excess of twenty thousand rupees received by such political party from any person or companies in that financial year shall be submitted in Form 24 (A) to the Election Commission.

The petition was ignored by the Chief Electoral Officer of Bihar. The petitioner who is also an RTI activist filed a first appeal with the department. After waiting for another month for a reply from the office, he filed a second appeal with the State Information Commission (SIC).

The SIC of Bihar directed the Election Division of the State to provide the petitioner the requisite information by 20th January. The SIC also directed the concerned Public Information Officer to provide an explanation to why he would not be fined Rs. 37,000 (Rs 250 per day from 18.07.08 to 16.12.08) under Section 20 (1) of the Right To Information Act, 2005 for not providing the requested information.

This time it became obligatory for the Chief Electoral Officer of the state to provide information as well as the explanation for the delay.

The deputy Chief Electoral Officer of Bihar who also holds the PIO office made what can be termed the most fascinating reply.

Let’s look at the explanation first.

Their office had informed the RTI petitioner to submit a fee of Rs. 2 which the petitioner did not submit, (therefore they had not replied). “In spite of this, on the direction of the State Information Commission we are (now) providing you the requested information,” said the PIO in his reply.

The petitioner claims that he did not receive any such letter from the PIO. Even if the PIO had sent any such letter, it is amusing to note that the Electoral Office of the State sent a one page registered letter to demand money for his reply (consisting of half a page). Sending the letter itself must have cost the office appx. Rs 25.

The information is even more interesting

The deputy Chief Election Officer of Bihar, Sohan Kumar Thakur said in his reply that the petitioner could not be provided the requested information because no political parties by the names Congress, BJP, RJD, JDU and LJP were registered with the Election Commission of India.

However, if the petitioner has implied Indian National Congress, Bhartiya Janta Party, Rashtiya Janta Dal and Lok Janshakti Party, then the information can be sought from the Election Commission of India.

Quite ironically, the Electoral Officer of Bihar took six months for this piece of information and claims to have demanded a fee of Rs 2 through a registered letter.

It has been more than three years since the much-touted Right To Information Act was introduced in India. It raised hopes that the people will finally have access to the workings of the state. However, some babus are still unwilling to work in an environment of transparency.

[The hearing of this case (No.-12974/08-09 14427) is on 23.03.09 in the SIC building, Patna, capital of Bihar]

Green computers for a greener environment

What if someone tells you to buy a “green computer”? Not that the computer will be devoid of those complex electronic components. Neither will it be green in colour. What is actually meant is relatively recyclable and more environmentally safer computers.

In general, computer equipment is a complicated assembly of more than 1,000 materials. Many of these are highly toxic, such as heavy metals, chlorinated and brominated substances, toxic gases, plastics and plastic additives.

How is a green computer different?

Toxics Link, a Delhi based NGO provides a life cycle perspective for a greater understanding of the product’s environmental impact. This looks into the production, usage and final disposal of the computer.

Low energy usage and non toxic manufacturing processes are critical parameters to judge a computer on its green quotient.

The computer should have high operational power efficiency and should be designed for upgradation.

The reduction and elimination of hazardous material ensures minimum release of toxic material during the recycling process.

India’s E waste problem

E-waste, at around 4 lakh tonnes generated annually in India, is recycled mostly in informal sector in crude manner. The dismantling and recycling processes exposes the workers to the health hazards of lead, mercury, chromium, and cadmium. Once released they further contaminate the air, water and soil.

Silver linings

Toxics link, which monitors issues of e-waste, sees a positive shift in the computer manufacturing industry.

Computer manufacturers claim that they are not oblivious to the harms that their products can cause to the environment. And that’s why most companies have been coming out with greener version of the machines in the last few years.

However, Priti Mahesh, Senior Programme Officer at Toxics Link points out, “With growing awareness about environmental pollution, manufacturing companies view the green label as an USP for their product”.

There have been some initiatives globally in terms of voluntary labelling programmes to address the environment question of computers. This has also caused a notable shift in the way the products are being designed.

Simple tips to reduce energy use:

· Put the computer on standby or sleep when not in use

· Internet usage needs more energy. Go offline when not browsing the net

· LCD monitors use less than half the energy used by CRT monitors

· Laptops use less energy compared to desktops

· New processors are more energy efficient

Eco-labels are a primary tool to tell customers about the environmental characteristics of products. It can help them in making an informed choice about the products that they buy, help them in choosing a green product.

Lack of awareness

Mahesh who has done major work towards raising consumer awareness about “greener computers”, says “this is a new thing for India and therefore the awareness among consumers is also low.”

She points out that in the western countries consumers are aware and they ask for “Designed for Environment” computers. In India, awareness is low and small companies don’t see much value in adhering to the environment friendly norms.

There have been instances, informs the Programme Officer, when Western countries or organisations have sent second hand computers to Indian schools in the garb of donation. However, 80% of them have turned out to be junks.

A legislative push from the Government and green procurement policy by major users will help in driving the change. Manufacturing companies in India like HCL and Wipro have already initiated programmes for phasing out the restricted materials.

Technological advances are further helping the green drive. By just replacing the old CRT with a LCD, one can cut power consumption to more than half.

India is one of the fastest growing computer markets in the world. A growth in consumer awareness can be a major driver in ensuring environment-friendly PCs in our homes.

The Slumdog Millionaire debate...2

I watched Slumdog Millionaire. And I did it with an unprejudiced mind. I endorse all the disgust and disappointment shown by fellow bloggers and the likes of Arindam Choudhury. It is an insult on all Indians in general and Hindus in particular. In fact, Danny Boyle has repeated what the British had done to our country for about 200 years. He has played the communal card. This time to rule our minds!

When a little boy dressed as Lord Ram, looks abhorrently at Jamal, the subtle message is that the Hindu Gods or His worshippers in this country are intolerant of Muslims. And that this state of affairs is endorsed by the State (signified by the policemen being silent observers of the massacre).

Quite disparagingly, Jamal is able to answer that Benjamin Franklin's photo is on a $100 note. He remembers how his blinded beggar friend had identified the note. (As if to signify the benevolence of Britishers who give away $100 notes to beggars). To point out the truth, the parents of the child actors of SM have already accused the film's producers of underpaying and exploiting the eight-year-olds.

Paradoxically, Jamal is unable to recognize Mahatma Gandhi's picture on a 1000 rupee note. It is a pungent remark on the Mahatma and the respect that he has among his countrymen. Jamal, with an English education in primary school however, remembers the names of the Musketeers.

I think Mother India portrayed a grimmer reality of India's poverty. And in an unprejudiced way. But, we did not appreciate the film that much. Probably because it did not win a Golden Globe. And was not made by Danny Boyle.

Safe food, tasty food during Commonwealth

A waiter posse beside a hoarding of Indian paranthas. Pix: Dipu Shaw

The Delhi Government is coming up with new regulatory measures ahead of the 2010 Commonwealth Games. After the decision to clear the city’s roads with beggars, the latest in the row is a new project to upgrade the eateries and roadside dhabas.

‘The Safe Food, Tasty Food’ project of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) will look to provide framework for holding food establishments accountable for acceptable levels of safety and quality of food served in the capital.

The Quality Council of India will also certify 1000 eateries in the city that would follow International standards. These eateries will be listed in the “recommended list” of restaurants for the visiting foreign tourists.

Under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, the FSSAI will put “appropriate pressure on the food establishments to improve their safety and quality by making adherence to the required standard mandatory”.

The FSSAI as well plans to design a suitable Logo, Portal and Signage for adoption before the games. This will enable visitors to identify places where they can have a taste of traditional Indian delicacies, without worrying much about their health.

The Delhi Government is eager to portray Delhi as a hygienic and safe food destination and that it cares for the quality and safety of life in the National Capital.

Studies on the hygiene of fast-food restaurants in Delhi have pointed out that the city’s street food is not all that healthy.

The Government has already undertaken the preliminary work required for improving their safety according to basic minimum parameters which are already identified. It is all set to turn the capital's cheap, mouth-watering variety of ready-to-eat street foods into a safe and hygienic experience.

Authorities will not only monitor the quality of food and water sources but also create proper garbage disposal, sanitation facilities and a process of control on street food sales on mutually acceptable terms.